By Scott Nixon, Times-Advocate Staff
SOUTH HURON — South Huron's 2013 municipal budget will focus on "musts" and "high needs," and not "wants" and "nice to haves."
That was the message from chief administrative officer Roy Hardy at South Huron council's Dec. 17 meeting as he updated council and staff on the budget.
Highlights of the budget include the fact that the municipality's fire plan will require a one per cent tax increase in both 2013 and 2014, with South Huron's need to address training, equipment and fire facilities.
As far as policing goes, Hardy said policing reserves "will cushion" the municipality's next contract renewal with the OPP in 2014 "as a result of good reinvestment of year-end policing surpluses."
Hardy added the municipality has delayed needed urban and rural road reconstruction costs and reduced community grants by half. Reserve contributions have also been cut in half, and the municipality has implemented a freeze on new hiring.
Most equipment replacement has been delayed until 2014.
Several high need and must have projects for South Huron include the replacement of the South Huron Rec Centre refrigeration system, the completion of the Sanders Street rehabilitation and expanded water/fire flows to South Huron District High School, repairs to the bell tower at the municipal office, engineering for capital projects for federal and provincial grant funding in 2014, the paving of Morrison Line and Blackbush Line and streetlight replacement.
Hardy said the municipality continues to maintain service levels such as replacing one bridge per year, providing enhanced road winter maintenance above standards and continuing to maintain parks and facilities at existing levels.
After its Dec. 3 budget meeting the residential tax rate so far stands at a 7.3 per cent increase in the Exeter ward and an 8.4 per cent increase in Usborne and Stephen, with still more work and cuts to come and a target of 3.9 per cent before adoption.
Hardy also showed graphs illustrating that Huron County's tax ratios are higher than that of neighbouring counties like Lambton, Middlesex and Perth — a matter South Huron intends to take up with the county.
Once a lower county tax rate is set, South Huron aims for a tax ratio that will see the municipality somewhere "in the middle of the pack" of municipalities in Huron.
South Huron also intends to urge the provincial and federal governments to provide two thirds infrastructure funding for 2014 and beyond.
Options for the municipality to keep the budget and taxes in line are to increase the draw from reserves, reduce hours and level of service for facilities and parks, raise cemetery rates and reduce the level of care, reduce the level of winter maintenance to minimum standards and spread the budgeted wage increases over two years.
The municipality also hopes to "attract jobs, housing, downtown development and hotel/motel accommodations . . . to support sustainable growth and renewal."
Coun. Wayne DeLuca said he gets concerned when he hears the words "defer," "delete," "reduce," and "draw from reserves" when it comes to budget talks. He said just because you defer a project, it doesn't mean it goes away. He said he is concerned when the only way the municipality can function is by cutting things that will come back to haunt them.
South Huron's next budget meeting is scheduled for Jan. 7.
Other council notes:
Looking at safety
In reaction to the recent death of pedestrian Thomas Burgess who was struck by a pickup truck while he was crossing Main Street at the George Street intersection Dec. 7, council passed a motion to have a roundtable meeting consisting of municipal staff, council, the OPP, the Ministry of Transportation, citizens at large and others to look for a solution to traffic issues in the area.
DeLuca put forth the motion, seconded by Coun. Bill Francis.
DeLuca noted a study showed traffic lights weren't required for the area but wonders if there is something else the municipality can do. He said many people in the area were "shaken" after Burgess' death.
Hardy said he has spoken to the OPP and they are assessing the intersection. He suggested waiting until the assessment is done.
Deputy Mayor Jim Dietrich said the matter will also be discussed at the Police Services Board, which he chairs.
Parking lot plans
Hardy and road superintendent Ken Bettles updated council on the municipality's plans to remove the buildings at 312 Main Street (the former Burkley Restaurant) and 20 Sanders St. E. (formerly The Dove's Nest) to create a parking lot.
The report by Hardy and Bettles mentions the concern that there is not enough parking in the downtown core. As a result, staff sought opportunities to increase parking in the area, identifying the above-mentioned locations.
The municipality recently received quotes from five firms offering costing for removal of the buildings at the two locations. Quotes ranged in price from the low bidder N.C. Jones and Sons for $35,808.57, to a high bid of $82,490.
In a motion, council accepted the low N.C. Jones quote.
The report notes "both sites will be restored to a gravel parking area as part of the demolitions, and a longer term plan to maximize the use of the expanded area will be developed and submitted to council as the streetscape project moves further along."
DeLuca asked when the area will be paved, with Hardy responding that the decision is up to council.
"It could be a while," he said.
Concerns about the future taxation of municipal landfill sites were abated recently with successful lobbying by the Ontario Waste Management Association (OWMA).
Environmental services director Don Giberson updated councillors on the situation at council's most recent meeting.
There were concerns that the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) would implement a new valuation model for landfill sites that would lead to increases in the taxes for such sites, making them unaffordable for municipalities to maintain.
Mayor George Robertson expressed in previous meetings his concern about the situation, saying the South Huron Landfill Site might have to close if MPAC implemented the new system.
However, Giberson said efforts by OWMA have been successful and "the current methodology for assessing landfills will remain unchanged for the 2013 tax year."
Solutions for the future are being looked at, Giberson said.
"That's good news," Robertson said in reaction.
Congrats to new warden
On a motion put forth by Dietrich, council officially congratulated Robertson on being elected Dec. 5 as Huron County warden. Robertson received a round of applause from his fellow South Huron councillors.